Wednesday, 11 August 2010

English in it enough?

Japanese companies have started to adopt English, the language of global business, for more and more of their everyday operations. Although requiring all employees to have a working knowledge of the English language can be construed to be a very controversial move, it points to a dichotomy in Japanese society.

The business world in Japan is openly embracing English and the oppportunities it can bring. On the other hand, there is a bureaucratic side of Japan that eschews English like the plague. While the Japanese government has set a goal for English language instruction, it remains to be seen how successful this policy will be at increasing English proficiency.

Of greater concern, in my experience, is the fact that so many Japanese, young and old, are apprehensive (for lack of a better term) to use the English language. Japan has one of the most widespread foreign language (English language) programs in the world (at least to my knowledge). I would estimate that most Japanese in their 40's and younger would have studied English for six years or more in junior and senior high schools. Now, I am not saying that six years makes anyone a master of any language, but, assuming the teaching is sound then the basics are there.

I have met many people here in Japan who are decent at writing and reading English, however, when compared to China there seems to be a lack people who are able to actually speak the English language here. From personal experience, I've noted that when Japanese make slips of the tongue in the standard Japanese language, they are very nearly ridiculed for their minor mistake. I am no expert on Chinese but I wonder if the same thing happens in China to someone who mispronounces Mandarin words.

Perhaps this culture of avoiding mistakes at all costs needs updating?

Image credit: jscreationzs / Sphere: Related Content

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